Patent Law (Concepts and Insights)

Intellectual Property and Patents

Article Snapshot


Craig Allan Nard and R. Polk Wagner


Foundation Press, 2007


This book presents key concepts and problems in patent law.

Policy Relevance

The patent system presents difficult questions for policymakers as the role of patents changes over time.

Main Points

  • Recent decades have seen many challenges to the patent system arise. Many more patents are requested and are granted, and enforcing patents has become more complex and costly.  The role of patents in business is changing. 

  • The Federal Circuit was created to make patent law more consistent by hearing all patent appeals.  Observers debate whether the court should be reformed.

  • A key function of patents is to disclose the patented technology to the public. The United States is unusual in giving priority to the first to invent a patented idea, not to the first to file the patent.

  • Patents should be granted only for new inventions, that is, “novel” ideas that are not obvious. Earlier patent applications and other sources are “prior art,” where examiners look to see if an idea is new.  Deciding whether an idea is obvious can be difficult.

  • Patenting of some types of technology, such as as biotechnology, software, and business methods, has been controversial. 

  • Patent law and competition policy involve difficult economic questions about how much market power a patent can confer without harming the public. 

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